July 2012

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I like Amazon. More importantly, I like paying attention to Jeff Bezos. He’s a master strategist and his ability to cleverly advance the right pieces at the right time is quite insightful.

Today, he managed to make another interesting move by launching what he calls The Amazon Career Choice Program.

See Below:

“Today, we’re announcing our newest innovation — one we’re especially excited about — the Amazon Career Choice Program. So, for people who’ve been with us as little as three years, we’re offering to pre-pay 95% of the cost of courses such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies, nursing, and many other fields. The program is unusual. Unlike traditional tuition reimbursement programs, we exclusively fund education only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand according to sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we fund those areas regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder & CEO

Bezo’s claims that this is unusual, but that’s hardly the case. If anything, Brazilian iconoclastic CEO Ricardo Semler is the guy that really brought this concept into the workplace after the family business was passed down to him by his old man (Antonio Semler) back in the 1980’s.

Bezos is simply mimicking Semler by re-introducing this same concept into Amazon. Why? Because it’s effective and it’s smart.

In fact, this only proves Bezos’s impeccable timing.

Think about it.

When companies are downsizing and cutting staff without mercy, amazon decides to run the opposite direction and actually fund their employees with their own career goals – regardless of those career goals being related to amazon.

The translation here is: Listen, We know that other companies are laying off workers. We also understand that times our tough and we certainly understand the fact that you might have other career goals in mind. In fact, we would love to help you cover the cost of education/training by paying for most of it. We genuinely give a shit about you and this is our way of putting our money where our mouth is.

What separates Bezos from a lot of other tech CEO’s is his ability to pay attention to the grand strategy instead of meddling with wasteful, mindless details. He’s a master at wining the war instead of exhausting resources on a measly battle.

From his acquisitions of IMDB, Alexa, Audible (including an entire portfolio of tech companies from 1998-2009 that literally made Amazon) and more recently Zappos to initiating this new program, Bezos has always been moving in the right direction.

Pay attention to that guy.

Online trust is a very interesting concept – yet no company has really nailed it yet. For example, there are many numerical indices that are used to gauge trustworthiness, insurance risk and financial risk of individuals – but there is no score that reflects how trustworthy you are on the web.

Think FICO scores for example. FICO scores represent a fairly accurate representation of one’s financial habits over a long term and helps financial institutions and employers from pre-qualifying you for credit or employment.

There are plenty of reputation management start-ups in operation these days, but I am not really impressed with any of them. This is due to a very simple reason: lack of a compelling competitive advantage. Anyone can simply aggregate data from a bunch of public sources (like: social networks, personal websites, LinkedIn etc.) and assign a numerical value to it, but who cares?

TrustCloud (Founder & CEO: Xin Chung) is a fairly new start-up that’s aiming to solve this problem.

Will they succeed? Maybe. I am certainly intrigued.

The obvious challenge for TrustCloud and other companies in this “reputation management/trust” categories is not simply being able to verify “trusted” sources, it’s being able to distinguish between falsified data and real data. It’s so damn easy to fool these services currently with doctored social media profiles, temporary phone numbers, email addresses and bogus mail drops – and if these are the elements that consists of “online trust” according to companies like TrustCloud — then good luck.

As always, you can use these networks for your own advantage by molding the perception of the public according to your own whim.

Don’t underestimate the power of misdirection.